Most New York Rangers fans have taken in a game or two at Madison Square Garden, have seen highlights of a young Mike Richter, and know how the Broadway Blueshirts got their nickname. But only real fans know about the Curse of 1940, can name the players in “The Bread Line,” or remember “The Save.” 100 Things New York Rangers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die is the ultimate resource guide for true fans of New York Rangers hockey. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Emile Francis or a new supporter of head coach Alain Vigneault, these are the 100 things every fan needs to know and do in their lifetime. Authors Adam Raider and Russ Cohen – longtime friends of Inside Hockey – have collected every essential piece of Rangers knowledge and trivia, as well as must-do activities, and ranked them all, providing an entertaining and easy-to-follow checklist for any Rangers fan. Here’s a terrific excerpt from the book, presented with permission…
An entire generation of Rangers fans has grown up only knowing the New York Islanders as a league laughingstock. It’s hard to believe that a team that wasted first round draft picks on Dave Chyzowski and Scott Scissons, traded away a franchise defenseman in Zdeno Chara, was briefly owned by a con man named John Spano, and gave Rick DiPietro a 15-year contract is the same one that caused the Rangers and their fans so much heartache.
The Islanders owe their existence to the World Hockey Association. In 1972, the rogue league announced that its intended flagship franchise, the New York Raiders, was going to play at the new Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale with the ABA’s New York Nets. But operators of the Coliseum weren’t sold on the WHA and hastily lobbied the NHL to add a second New York team. Despite opposition from the Rangers, who didn’t want or need competition from across the East River, the league granted an expansion team to Nets owner Roy Boe. The Battle of New York had begun.
The Islanders had to pay the Rangers a $4 million territorial fee. Eight years later, a powerhouse club led by coach Al Arbour and stars Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Billy Smith and Denis Potvin accomplished what the establishment team from Manhattan had not in four decades. And then they had the nerve to do it four years in a row.
“In terms of building a fan base, the Islanders had to start from scratch,” said Chris Botta, a former public relations exec who spent 15 years in the Islanders front office. “It wasn’t like they just attracted frustrated Ranger fans who couldn’t get tickets at the Garden. No, the Islanders had to create their own fans, and they did it by being successful – not just by winning the Stanley Cup in year eight, but by beating the Rangers in the playoffs in year three. They had success as close to right away as I think you could possibly have had in that era.”
That success gave rise to a chant that originated in the upper bowl of Nassau Coliseum and then gradually infected every other arena in the NHL.
“Playing against the Islanders was what I dreamt of as a kid growing up,” said former Rangers captain Barry Beck. “Not the Islanders per se, but a rivalry at the highest level of hockey. They had great teams in that era with coaching and management to match. That’s a pretty tough combination to beat. In those days, there was no free agency so your teams could stay together. They were a powerful group. We got close a few times and I would like to think we pushed them to be their best.”
Beck’s Rangers lost to the Islanders in the playoffs four years in a row, from 1981 to 1984.
“The thing I remember most about games against the Rangers,” former Islanders center and current MSG Network analyst Butch Goring recalled, “was that it was more about the fans and the media and the hype, particularly at Madison Square Garden. The fans there are crazy. It gave me more incentive to beat the Rangers to sort of quiet their fans. Even when we were in our own building, it always seemed like half the crowd was Ranger fans and half were Islander fans. We were always determined to beat the Rangers because I think most people felt we were the poor guys and they were the rich guys. I didn’t hate their players but I enjoyed the rivalry.”
“Games between these teams always meant something,” Botta said. “I always took offense to the idea floated from time to time by some moronic broadcasters that somehow it was a bigger deal for the Islanders to beat the Rangers. It was a big deal for both teams. It’s a true rivalry. I don’t think it’s any different than what goes on in other markets, but this is unique because of the geographic closeness and the fact that there are certainly a lot of Ranger fans on Long Island. It was something that served to inspire the Bob Nystroms and the Mike Bossys to the Zigmund Palffys to the players of today.”
Highlights (and lowlights) of the Rangers-Islanders rivalry include:
April 11, 1975: The Islanders win their first playoff series, and eliminate the Rangers, on an overtime goal by veteran winger J.P. Parise. Prior to the decisive match, a pair of New York City police officers loyal to the Rangers had allegedly approached Rangers broadcaster Bill Chadwick and offered to close down the Whitestone Bridge or the Throgs Neck Bridge to delay the Islanders’ team bus. Chadwick declined the offer, of course, but in hindsight, maybe he should have accepted.
February 25, 1979: Islanders captain Denis Potvin crushes the Rangers’ brittle playmaker, Ulf Nilsson, against the boards. It’s a clean hit, but Nilsson’s right skate gets caught in a rut, and he crumples to the ice in agony. The resulting injury – a broken ankle that forces Nilsson to miss the rest of the season – ensures Potvin a seemingly permanent place of dishonor among the Blueshirt faithful, who have been chanting “Potvin sucks!” ever since.
May 8, 1979: With a 2-1 win at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers eliminate the favored Islanders in a classic semifinal series, four games to two.
May 24, 1980: The Islanders defeat the Philadelphia Flyers to win their first Stanley Cup.
May 5, 1981: The Islanders complete a sweep of the Rangers in the semifinals en route to winning their second Stanley Cup.
April 23, 1982: The Reign of Terror continues as the Islanders eliminate the Rangers in Game Six of the Patrick Division Finals.
April 22, 1983: The Rangers, who spend another Expressway Series being serenaded with chants of “1940! 1940!” are defeated in Game Six of the Patrick Division Finals. A month later, the Islanders win their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup.
April 8, 1984: Barry Beck suffers a dislocated left shoulder on a hit by Islanders winger Pat Flatley during Game Four of the semifinals. Later, the Islanders’ outspoken goalie, Billy Smith, admits in an on-camera interview that while he never enjoys seeing an opponent get injured, he’s glad that if someone on the Rangers had to get hurt, it was Beck.
April 10, 1984: The Islanders’ Ken Morrow scores in overtime to eliminate the Rangers from the semifinals.
April 5, 1990: In Game One of the semifinals, Islanders star Pat LaFontaine suffers a concussion in a controversial, open-ice hit by Rangers defenseman James Patrick. LaFontaine falls on his head and lay unconscious until being taken off the ice on a stretcher. He is delayed en route to the hospital by Ranger fans who try to flip over his ambulance. Later, in the closing seconds of the game, Mick Vukota attacks Ranger defenseman Jeff Bloemberg, a Born-Again Christian who refuses to fight. Vukota receives a 10-game suspension and the Rangers go on to win the series in five games.
April 24, 1994: The Rangers complete a first round sweep of the Islanders, outscoring their longtime foes 22-3 in the series en route to winning their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. Added bonus: watching a completely demoralized Ron Hextall try to save the Isles’ season by himself.
June 22, 1995: Hoping to attract younger fans, the Islanders unveil new uniforms. The crest – a fisherman holding a hockey stick – is billed as an homage to Long Island’s nautical history but bears an uncanny resemblance to the Gorton’s Seafood fisherman logo. It inspires a new chant at Madison Square Garden: “We want fish sticks!”
April 4, 1998: During a brawl at Nassau Coliseum, Rangers backup goalie Dan Cloutier pounds the Islanders’ Tommy Salo to the ice then skates over to the Islanders bench and challenges the entire team. Order is eventually restored, and the Isles win 3-0.
November 8, 2001: Theo Fleury flaps his arms like a chicken at Islanders defenseman Eric Cairns, who earlier in the game turned down a challenge to fight Rangers enforcer Sandy McCarthy.
April 5, 2007: An Islanders Ice Girl – eye candy employed by the team to clean the ice during TV timeouts – claims to have been slashed by Henrik Lundqvist as she tried to tidy up the slush around Lundqvist’s goal crease. Another Ice Girl accuses Rangers players of squirting water or spitting at her from the visitors’ bench.
October 12, 2012: The Islanders announce that in 2015, they will move from aging, decrepit Nassau Coliseum to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, historically Rangers territory.
April 13, 2013: In the most important (and hyped) regular season game between the teams in years, Dan Girardi’s goal at 3:11 of overtime gives the Rangers a 1-0 win over the Isles at Nassau Coliseum. Both teams earn points in a tight playoff race.
Some have said that this rivalry isn’t what it used to be – that it can’t be a true rivalry with the Islanders often ranking among the league’s worst teams. That’s nonsense. As long as any game against the Rangers glows like a beacon on their schedule, and the Islanders treat every contest against the city-dwellers like Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, the Battle of New York will rage for years to come.